On May 26th 1999 something special happened at Camp Nou, a soccer stadium in Barcelona, Spain. The European Champions League Soccer Final, a tournament that pitches the best teams from each country in Europe against each other to see who truly is the best of the best was poised to take place. Manchester United (my home team!), the biggest soccer club in the world were playing Bayern Munich, a German team who were widely regarded as good, but not good enough.
5 minutes into the game the unthinkable happened, Bayern scored to take the lead. The rest of the game was electric as United tried and tried to come back from behind with little success. With only 5 minutes left on the clock, United fans were leaving the stadium in droves, heads hanging low in utter disbelief while Bayern fans began the celebrations. Fireworks flaring and fans cheering. As the clock passed 90 minutes (the end of the game) it all seemed over as the referee signaled to add 3 minutes of additional time to cover lost minutes dealing with injuries throughout the game (pretty normal in the soccer world).
36 seconds later, the world stood still.
On 90 minutes and 36 seconds Manchester United scored. It was utter disbelief. After spending the last 85 minutes trying to get into the game after Bayern’s early goal they finally pulled it off, and what a time to do it. It was like throwing a 90 yard touchdown with 1 second left on the clock to tie the game.
If the game finished as a tie, extra time would commence, adding 30 more minutes of play to decide who the ‘Champions’ would be. I was glued to the screen, on the edge of my seat. Goosebumps building along with 90,000+ fans in the stadium and tens of millions of viewers on TV. TV.
The game resumed, Bayern’s players were shell shocked by the goal when just 2 minutes later, their world came crashing down as a bomb was dropped on the stadium by a substitute player by the name of Ole Gunner Solksjaer (who interestingly, is now the manager at that club!). At 92 minutes and 17 seconds Ole scored United’s second (and winning) goal. It was bedlam. 2 goals in 2 minutes is unheard of, let alone during injury time, in one of the biggest games in the world. The crowd erupted, the Bayern players looked as though they were literally about to collapse while the United fans already in their cars began crying (seriously) as they realized they’d just missed history.
That game is about as legendary as things get in the modern history of soccer, and everybody knows about what happened in those final 3 minutes. It reminds me of the first Easter.
2 different teams lined up for a battle that carried far higher stakes than a trophy. On the one hand, Team Jesus, with a multitude of angels in His corner. On the other, Team Satan, along with his goons. People don’t talk about the Devil much anymore, especially at Easter but Easter is entirely about the Devil and what he was trying to accomplish that awful night, around 2000 years ago. We talk about Jesus coming to Earth and dying on the cross and the way some people tell it, you’d think he was visiting a day spa.
It just 3 days instead of 3 minutes for Jesus to change the world. Counted out as the loser a few nights before, I imagine the Devil partied like it was Mardi Gras. Jesus’ fans were stunned by the defeat of the ‘special one’, and didn’t seem to know what to do. He was the favorite, He was supposed to win. Their world was crushed by the inescapable ‘evidence’ that their Savior was a fraud, seemingly a great salesman without any substance to his pitch. The rest of the world seemed to be overjoyed. They’d shut this lunatic up before he could do any more harm and now it was all over. No more did they have to listen to Him and his crazy stories about a God who loved them. Just like Bayern, the 90th minute had arrived. The game looked to be finished, and Jesus wasn’t on the winning team.
But then something happened. Only 3 days later. Like the Goliath roller coaster in six flags, a new high was reached when Jesus punched back from the grave and literally overcame death. To defeat this enemy he had to enter its realm and now, having done that He was back. Turns out that winning was in his DNA after all.
What happened that weekend, around 33 A.D. is not that Jesus died on a cross. It’s not that a bunny went chasing some eggs. What happened that weekend was a battle, a final to a game that began in the Garden of Eden, at the beginning of time, thousands of years earlier. Some people didn’t see it, but Jesus totally, completely, supremely and unilaterally defeated the Devil and his calling card, death. If that wasn’t enough, He did it all by Himself.
This was it, there was no rematch to be had. It was a winner takes all performance and holy moly did Jesus take it. Is there another uneducated manual laborer, that could teach at a level the educated couldn’t grasp? Is there another person that can perform miracles the world had never seen before (or since)? Is there another ‘good man’ who willingly died in our place? Is there another God, who opens His arms to you and I, simply because He wants to be our friend?
So take a minute to ponder the reality of that winning weekend, when Jesus went to play ball in the away team’s field and came back Christus Victor, the victorious Christ.
- He defeated death so that we can too one day.
- He defeated sin, so that He could pay our fine to God (because we all do things wrong). He defeated evil, so that good could prevail.
- He defeated the Devil himself so that he has no right to play on our Earth anymore.
Whether you accept Jesus’ victory or not is your choice, but boy oh boy what a a victory it was.